Minneapolis officials say they’ve come up against a new kind of challenge in their fight against late-night crime downtown: people unafraid to fire guns even on blocks packed with bar patrons and dotted with dozens of police officers.
Wednesday, in a meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, council members quizzed Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and the top cop from the city’s downtown police precinct on the Sept. 12 shooting that injured six people. Two men have been arrested in the shooting, which littered the street near the Hennepin Avenue light-rail station with 27 bullet casings and took place among a crowd that included at least 18 uniformed police officers.
Inspector Mike Kjos said his department and others are exploring the types of changes that could help keep traffic of all kinds moving after the crush of bar closing time, but that changing businesses’ hours and other strategies can only go so far.
“It comes down to the individuals who are downtown, what their beef is, and how they choose to settle it,” he said.
Officials said they have had some success in quieting former problem spots, including areas of 2nd and 3rd avenues that previously saw shootings.
In those areas, the police department increased patrols on foot, made sure to provide a bigger presence with lighted police cruisers and installed surveillance cameras. In some areas, the city removed parking spots. Kjos said that was aimed at a recurring problem: people who drive downtown, spend their evening figuring out where a rival is spending time and then show up outside the person’s car with a gun.
Meanwhile, the city is running a pilot project along a stretch of 1st Avenue N. where the sidewalk has been temporarily expanded into what’s usually a lane for vehicles. Kjos said ensuring that crowds can get out of downtown quickly — and that emergency crews can get in — can have a significant impact on crime.
Freeman assured council members that his office is taking the incidents seriously, along with a separate weekend shooting in north Minneapolis that left one person dead.
He said the problem downtown is significant, and he often advises his friends to leave around 1 a.m., an hour before bars close. But Freeman said that shouldn’t have to be the case.
“People have a right to participate in legal activities downtown, including staying in a bar until two in the morning,” he said.
The county attorney said families, political leaders and others need to do more to change a culture in which young people resort to serious violence.
“We have got to increase the dialogue about why carrying guns to settle disputes makes no sense,” he said.
Freeman said his office has issued a warrant for a third suspect in the recent downtown shooting. He added that he is working closely with police on several robbery and assault cases he believes are linked, but did not share additional information.
Council Member Linea Palmisano asked if the city’s planned body camera program would likely have an impact on the amount of crime downtown or how officers respond to it. Kjos said the recordings would likely provide a clearer picture of what happens after bars close their doors — and provide a window into the often chaotic scenes that play out on a regular basis.
“The reality is we prevent these incidents nightly,” he said.